Monday, July 31, 2006

Testing It Out

I went to church last night to test out the device while sitting in a church "pew" chair, and then went out with our Sunday School class to eat at a fast food joint. We didn't stay long there, but I wanted to give this SCS a real trial, going all the places I would go when I have pain. I have to admit, that other than the surgical pain, it felt better than without the spinal cord stimulator. I didn't fidget and squirm like I did with the pain. As long as my mind is occupied, I don't notice the tingling sensation as much. This is better than when I have pain because when I have that, nothing I can do really distracts me from the pain.

One scary thing happened last night. I have a gauze dressing that is about the size of 4" x 5". Then I have a Tegaderm transparent dressing that is about 8" x 10". Well, Russ is supposed to watch the Tegaderm to make sure it doesn't curl up or allow any air in which could contain something that would cause an infection to the spine since there is a small opening where the wire lead comes out. They showed him what to watch for, and said to tape the edges if this happens, or if the dressing has something we question, to call them. Well, last night at 9:00 p.m. (on a Sunday-who wants to call their doc then?) Russ noticed that the there was a big air bubble in the tegaderm, but the edges looked secured. He is guessing it is just from the Tegaderm not being stuck flat to the skin anymore in those places. So he thinks the air bubble is sterile air. Also, the gauze dressing has slipped down, and we can actually see the wire coming out of the spinal opening. Not sure if this is okay, since it is all covered up, or not. What to do?

So he taped one more boundary around the whole thing, hoping to block out any air getting in. I'm taking a strong antibiotic to fight any potential infections. And we decided not to call the doc so late on a weekend.

If I show any signs of infection, I'll get to Urgent Care or the doctor's office-like redness, drainage, or fever.

I know, I know-just what you guys wanted to read! This one should contain the "gross out" warning!

Not sure

Please pray for me to have peace one way or the other regarding whether to go through with the permanent implantation of the spinal cord stimulator. I will go back to the doctor on Tuesday to have the temporary leads removed, and he says I should know one way or the other by then. If there is much doubt at all, he doesn't recommend having the surgery. He said I would know for sure if it is something that would help.

The problem is, it does help a good amount of the pain, but it is like trading apples for oranges. Instead of pain there is this tingling sensation that I can't decide if I will like longterm or not. At times it feels good, like a jacuzzi or back and leg vibrator, but at times it feels like very strong piercing pins and needles. I thought it was supposed to HELP a pins and needles kind of pain called neuropathy-but to me this feels similar to it. It is possible that the settings just aren't right for me. I keep trying to play with the programmer, within the parameters that the technician set for me.

Also, I'm still having surgical pain, so it really is hard to tell if this is a good thing or not. I'm just being honest. It is helping about 60-70% of the original pain. They say anything 50% or over is considered a success because there is no way it can block all the pain. And I haven't had the muscle cramps in my legs like I was having from the leg pain. So that is a plus. I just have to decide if I want this paresthesia they call it (or tingling sensation) in place of the pain. It's hard to tell since I'm still having pain from the surgery.

How can anyone really know in 4 days? They say for most it is an instant decision to do it or not do it.

I want to make sure that I'm not just doubtful due to the 8 weeks of restrictions and dependency this would cause. If it will really help, I'm willing to do whatever.

So, will you pray with me as I decide for sure?

What Kind of Car Are You?

I tried out a little test to see what sort of car I am. Here are the results:

I'm a Ford Mustang!

You're an American classic -- fast, strong, and bold. You're not snobby or pretentious, but you have what it takes to give anyone a run for their money.

"Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

24 Hours

It's been 24 hours since coming home from the hospital. I did finally get some sleep, after I took an extra pain pill and took another Tylenol PM (one usually does the trick but this time I needed two).

Today has been basically a lazy day of experimenting with the different settings on my remote and deciding what works best for me. We did also walk down the culdesac and back so I could get out and get some exercise. I used my cane and was a bit slow, but it felt good.

One thing that is different than we expected is that the vibrating sensation doesn't just happen where the electrodes are sitting. Depending on what sequence of electrodes are programmed to be "on" that controls all the nerve signals from there down is how far the tingling goes. And I mean DOWN to the ground! I asked Russ to feel my leg to see if he could feel any of the vibration, and at first he said "no" because he thought it was supposed to just be in my back, but then I explained how it worked, and he agreed he could feel it some, on the outside. So you can imagine what it feels like on the inside! And if I want the sensation of a massage, I just have to increase the intensity (amplitude).

I guess, from the diagram, we thought it would be more like the nerves would sense pain below the waist, and that pain signal would travel towards the brain. We thought that when the pain signal got to the electrodes in my back, it would be blocked from going any further, so the brain would not sense the pain. But rather the brain senses a tingling in place of the pain. This is what I have to get used to. I like some settings better than others.

So far, I have had zero muscle cramps in my legs or feet, so this is one goal met. Yeah! And I really don't feel any pain in my legs either-just the tingling. It's harder to tell with the back because of the surgery pain.

The nurse from Medtronic (Ann) called today to see how the unit was doing. She was pleased with what I reported and felt like we were getting a favorable response.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Can't Sleep

I'm up because I can't sleep. Haven't slept yet since coming home from surgery. I'm just in too much pain and can't find a comfortable position. The best position is standing or walking, and even though I used to be a sleep walker, obviously there is no sleeping in the upright position. I can't grab any zzzs until I can lay in bed or on the couch. This is just surgical pain and should be much better by the end of tomorrow or Sunday. They didn't prescribe pain meds, just said to take what I had at home. But the strongest I have is Ultram-not all that strong for post surgery pain. Most of their back patients are on Oxycontin or Vicodin, but I don't have any of that. I took Tylenol PM to try to sleep tonight. So, hopefully next time you hear from me you will hear that I've had some rest!

I'm Home!

Just a note to let you know we are home from getting the spinal cord stimulator trial and all went well from a no complications standpoint. I'll probably write this on my blog but wanted you to know right away.

They checked me in at 11:30 and I changed into scrubs and they placed an IV where my elbow bends. They took my vitals-I'm still running high blood pressure-have been for a month or so, but hopefully it is pain related (and stress, of course) and will subside when all this is over. They put antibiotic in the IV and some valium to sort of relax me for the surgery. I did NOT get the twilight sleep cocktail I was so looking forward to! I guess I get that the next surgery.

The medtronics nurse met me in pre-op and asked if I had any questions and showed me the trial device.

So, they took me by gurney to the operation suite. It's one they also use for heart catheterizations. The doc met me there and the medtronics nurse was there to deliver the equipment and also to program the gizmo. And then there were 2 other nurses/techs to help.

The nurse scrubbed my back with betadine. Then the doc scrubbed it with MORE betadine. The biggest risk factor is getting an infection through the open hole to the spine that will be here until Tuesday when they take out the equipment (since this is a trial).

They numbed the area (no good medicine in the IV--frown--). Then the doctor narrated the whole procedure to me. He was so sweet! He first put a catheter in there, taking photos with the fluoroscope the whole time to make sure he didn't go too far. He especially warned me when he would bear down with pressure on my back to get the wire in the area, and of course he had to puncture and go through ligament and that sort of thing. He said most people squirm or flinch or are off the table, but I was as still as could be-he called me a trouper. It wasn't unbearable (not great but not the end of the world), and staying still helped him get it right the first time. So when they were satisfied with the location, they put in the lead wire with the electrodes.

At that point the Medtronics nurse hooked the lead wire up to the computer to program a basic pulse and strength, to see if I could feel it and if they were getting good coverage. They thought they might need two lead wires to cover the whole area of pain, but they only needed one to cause the paresthesia (tingling) in the low back, sacrum, buttocks, and both legs. Amazing! They almost did a high five when they got it right the first time. They looked at the clock and said it was the best this procedure had ever gone for them in regard to accuracy, no complications, and amount of time. I told them it was because so many people were praying. They agreed! They stitched the wire into place and then cleaned me off and said we were done. It only took one hour.

I had to practice my logroll to get from the surgery table to the gurney to take me back to pre-op which was also recovery. Russ and Pastor met me in recovery and the medtronics nurse continued to program the device, so that there are more options to consider. I have 4 different programs I can choose from at this point. She showed Russ and me how to use the remote to change the settings. Then she showed Russ the dressing in the back. He said it is the size of a piece of notebook paper. She said it is essential he inspect it often to make sure none of the edges are unsecured because even a little bit of opening could let in bacteria or viruses that could cause a major infection. If it happens, he is to tape around the edges. So, they were thorough.

I am in a lot of pain from the surgery, because he had to bear down a lot on my back to manipulate the wire to get it were he wanted it, and because they didn't put any pain meds in my IV. They said this should get better in a day or two.

The sensation from the device is unbelievable. Very hard to describe. Not unpleasant, but strange. Will take some getting used to. And the restrictions are CRAZY. But this time it is just until Tuesday so I can deal with. I'm walking like a granny with a cane, but that should get better when the surgical pain subsides.

I'll keep you posted. Thanks so much for praying. Pray especially at this point that the surgical pain gets better and that I can figure out a way to get some rest.

Russ just put in a toilet riser for me and said with a smile, "You should be good to GO." The king of puns he is!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Countdown has begun!

Counting down. This time tomorrow, I should be home from the hospital, if all goes well!

Two Doors

It seems like whenever something big is about to happen in our lives, that something else pops up to frustrate us and hurt our already burdened hearts. So it is today. Tomorrow is my procedure so of course today several crazy things have happened. All I can know to tell myself is that these things do not take God by surprise and He can provide me with all the peace I need, He doesn't dole it out, or limit its supply to any one person.

I'm sure you can relate. Trials never come solo, they travel in packs. That's just the nature of the beast, it seems.

All I know to do is focus on the things God would have me to focus on and not fixate on the things that are unhealthy to rehash in my mind.

Trials never come without blessings, but I have to get my eyes OFF of the trials in order to see the blessings. I can always list so many neat things for which I'm thankful. Some of my big blessings are my Lord, my adoring and supportive husband, and the friends and family who show just how much they care. Some of the smaller blessings (but not any less amazing) are my pets, my daily opportunities to embrace life, and (this time of year) homegrown vegetables!

So--there are two doors. One leads to a fixation on the trials. The other leads to seeing the uplifting blessings all around me. Which door will I pick? It's a no-brainer!

What Will It Feel Like?

I've had several ask me what the spinal cord stimulator will feel like. While I'm in the operating room tomorrow they will ask me again where my areas of symptoms are. Then they will position the wire leads in the spine in such a way to target those areas. Once it is in place, the Medtronics technician or nurse will work with me to decide what programming to use. This is why I have to be awake. They will first ramp up the electrical pulses and they want me to allow it to max out to the point that I can't stand it any more. This will be my max point for now (later I will probably learn to tolerate the sensation more and the max will change). Then they will reduce the settings until we decide on the right programming (the power, the pulse length, etc.)

The "buzz" is supposed to cause a pleasant sensation known as paresthesia. There will be a tingling that some say feels like a nice massage. Some say it feels like seltzer water in the areas I normally have pain. Others don't like it. This is why we do the trial first.

When I laugh, sneeze, or cough, the "buzz" will be more of a jolt at first, until some scar tissue builds up around the leads to secure it away from the spinal cord more so it doesn't wiggle as much in the epidural space. The reason for the jolt at first is because sneezing or other similar jerking motions will cause the wires to move in the space. Eventually that will go away, and the jolt feels different for everyone.

Another thing to be careful of is going through store security. I must turn it off before entering and exiting the store because the security gates at the doorway could send a signal to my unit also causing a bit of a jolt.

Also, I will not be able to go through airport security. I will have a special medical card to present to security, and they will take me around the gate and scan me with a hand wand or do a brief touch search and then I can go on my way.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Random Acts of Kindness

Often we hear of people who make it a point to do random acts of kindness. But I'd like to suggest we take it a step further and do INTENTIONAL Acts of Kindness. Random implies spontaneous and on a whim. Intentional acts take forethought and a desire to bless the recipient by considering that person's needs.

One of my friends is a licensed nail technician and she chooses to bless me by offering to do my pedicures since I have health problems. She said the Lord laid it on her heart to encourage me in this way, and God knew exactly what I needed. She is practicing Intentional Acts of Kindness. Last night she decided to surprise us with a carefully made meal for two. She put paper plates inside colorful plastic holders, loaded it with meat and vegetables, and wrapped it for travel. Then in styrofoam cups she layered a fruit parfait for each of us. This took thought and planning ahead of time rather than acting on a whim. What a blessing! While I was eating her homemade meal, my feet were soaking in a pedicure bath — now that's good living! (Thank you Lou Ellen!)

Another friend takes time out of her busy schedule to call me when she sees things on sale she knows I need. She knows how frugal we are, and helps us out by pointing us in the direction of savings. In doing this, she is lightening our load. To give you an example: I needed loose fitting clothing for an upcoming surgery. She told me about a special sale going on at a store for women who are (ahem) ample sized. Her heads-up allowed me to purchased clothing retail priced at $225.00, on sale now for just $53.00! (Thank you Betty!)

These are just two examples of taking time to deliberately bless those around us with acts of kindness. A card, a phone call, a meal, a pedicure are just a few ideas for showing kindness. The best way to know how to be a blessing to someone else is to ask God to show you. As you are praying for others in specific ways, God will lead you in ways to encourage them in specific ways. It all starts with prayer and an "others" mindset.

Details of when, etc.

Friday (7/28) my surgery is at 12:30 p.m. EST. The procedure itself takes 2-3 hours, and then I'll be in recovery an hour or more. Then I say bye-bye to the staff and come home to try to figure how in the world I'm going to move while this thing is in me. It will be great once I get through everything, but it will be a rough couple of months.

This first round is the trial period-so they won't be cutting on me. They will use a big needle to insert the lead wires into the spinal cord area that will give off electrical impulses. These wires will come out of the skin and go into an external control unit that will be on a belt that I will wear at all times. The biggest risk is infection since I will have an open area to the spine, and also a spinal headache if they get into the wrong space and I leak spinal fluid.

I'll have an IV so they can give me antibiotics and also to drug me for the procedure. I'll also take antibiotics by pill until next Tuesday or Wednesday. (I get the trial wires out on Tuesday).

I'll be awake so they can set the various preferences for the pulses and strengths and locations.

I should be home between 4:30-5:30 if all goes well.

Pray, pray, pray that this works so that I can go forward with the surgery SOON.


Of course when people prepare for life-changing events in their lives, they have concerns. Their minds are swamped with thoughts rushing in from every direction. The Lord is the calming factor, providing peace. But that doesn't mean He takes the storms away.

So, here are my storms of thought, in no particular order, regarding the upcoming procedure for the spinal cord stimulator:

• Will it work?
• Will it hurt more than I can endure?
• What can I wea that will work with the bandages and the restrictions?
• How will I wash my hair?
• What if I lose my programmer for the unit?
• Will the surgery make my connective tissue disease flare up?
• How long will I take to recover?
• How will I manage my bouncy puppy during this time?
• I hope I don't get any of the risks during this procedure (paralysis, infection, spinal headache, etc.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spinal Cord Stimulator---Huh?

Many have asked "What were your options?" The doctors unfortunately can't remove the root problem, which is an immense amount of scar tissue tethering my spinal cord and invading my nerve root. If they remove it, it will just grow back. So, they have to give me different options.

#1-Do nothing. If I choose to do nothing, I risk repeat stumbles and falls, I endure daily muscle cramps in the legs and feet, neuropathy, radiculopathy, and pain in the back and legs. My pain levels peak at around an 8 out of 10, and my quality of life is diminished. My connective tissue disease continues to flare, as a reaction to the pain, and fatigue hits an all-time high, with daily naps the norm. I wanted a better life than that!

#2-Implanted Pain Pump. There were many pros and cons with this, and we decided it just wasn't best for me. It works for many, though.

#3-Spinal Cord Stimulator. This would block the pain signals going to the brain by confusing it with electrical impulses. It would help not just the pain, but the neuropathy, and hopefully the muscle cramps (if the cramping is in response to pain). It will NOT cure the problem, and if there is nerve damage, it will not keep me from stumbling and falling. But it will help with my perception of the floor so I can walk better (right now the neuropathy sends me confusing signals about its sensation of the floor or ground and I stumble).

Monday, July 24, 2006

A New Journey

Some of you know this, but for the rest of you, I wanted to update you about my back and legs. I have had physical therapy and other treatments this year for recurrent low back and leg problems. The doctor said my MRI showed the largest mass of scar tissue in my lower spine that he has ever seen thousands of MRIs. It is wrapped around the nerve root, and also invading the inside of the nerve. Also it is tethering the spinal cord.

We have exhausted all conservative measures, and researched our options. We've determined a spinal cord stimulator is the best way to go. I will have a trial version first. That will be done at Good Sam on Friday, July 28th. I will have the temporary leads removed on Tuesday, August 1st.

If the trial is successful, I will then have the implantation surgery (which is like back surgery and belly surgery in one) sometime later in August, probably around August 22nd. I will be under strict restrictions during the trial and the recovery period of 8 weeks. If I do not comply, this will not work, so I have to be a good girl! Also, since they will be cutting off parts of my spine (lamina), I will be laid up for a while.

The biggest risk factor is paralysis, so I'd appreciate your prayers, #1-that this is successful, #2-that I have a full recovery with no complications.

I have a very independent spirit, but I must make myself ask for help during this time period. That's not easy for me!

Several have asked me to journal my journey here on my blog. I will try not to bore you with "then I rolled out of bed" type posts and make it something that will possibly help you know how I'm recovering and also help new spinal cord stimulator patients.

The next few days I'll blog about the thoughts swirling around in my head. I'll be pretty transparent so if you are looking for a strong and brave soul, skip my blog. I'm just real-and that's okay because it is natural. Thankfully I can lean on a Lord who is SUPERnatural! When I am weak, then He is strong!

RECIPE: Kathy's Breakfast Casserole

I made this for our Sunday School class yesterday and it was a big hit. I have to tell you a funny story behind the recipe, though. It was Saturday night and I didn't feel like going to the store to get something for our class breakfast. So I decided to use ingredients I had on hand, and I made up the recipe as I went along. Russ thought that was "risky"-he's always kidding me that I experiment on others.

He watched others eat it Sunday and after they said it was good, then he jokingly said, "I guess no one got sick, so I can try it." He was just picking on me-he wasn't being mean. But it was funny then, when several said it was the best breakfast casserole they had ever eaten, and asked for the recipe! Here it is:

Kathy's Breakfast Casserole

The night before:

Butter a casserole pan liberally.

Cube up Texas Toast style bread (fresh, not toasted)-any bread would work

Brown breakfast meats and crumble-I used an assortment of finely diced ham (about 3/4 cup), bacon (4 slices, browned flat in oven to render the fat and brown to crispy), and hot bulk sausage (1/2 pound).

NOTE: I cooked a mixture called "sofrito" with my sausage. You're going to die when you read the recipe for it at the bottom of this recipe, so if you don't want to make sofrito, you can substitute diced chile peppers, green pepper, and onion.-not much of each-to total about 1/2 cup blended smooth.

Add crumbled breakfast meats to top of cubed bread in casserole dish. Allow to cool.

Mix up eggs-I used about 19 eggs for one loaf of bread, but you can judge how many you need based on how much bread you used. To stirred-up eggs I added about 2-3 cups of milk-again, adjust this for size of casserole. Then I added 1 regular carton of sour cream-this will be lumpy and that's okay.

After breakfast meats are cooled, pour the egg mixture over the casserole. Smooth the top to even out the sour cream. Add seasons to taste-I used a Krazy Salt seasoning.

Top with foil and let sit in refrigerator over night.

Bring out casserole about 1/2 hour before baking to get closer to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake casserole for 45 minutes with foil on.

Add 2 cups of shredded cheese-your choice-I used white and yellow cheddar. Leave foil off and continue baking for 20 minutes-???

It's done when cheese is melted, casserole has risen some (looks puffy), and casserole is firm.

SOFRITO (A Cuban seasoning mix, delicious in stews, egg dishes, and more):

2 medium Spanish onions, cut into large chunks
3-4 cubanelle peppers (I used fresh chile peppers)
16-20 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large bunch of cilantro, washed
1 small "hot" pepper-like a habanero or 2 small milder peppers
3-4 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into large chunks

Blend all in food processor until smooth. Freeze 1/2 cup batches in freezer bags to be pulled out for various recipes. Makes about 7 batches.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

POEM: The Song of the Blackberry Queen

I found this neat poem about blackberries. Enjoy:

My berries cluster black and thick
For rich and poor alike to pick.
I’ll tear your dress, and cling, and tease,
And scratch your hand and arms and
I’ll stain your fingers and your face,
And then I’ll laugh at your disgrace.
But when the bramble-jelly’s made,
You’ll find your trouble well repaid.

by Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973)

Blackberry Patch

One of the hidden benefits of buying our home was discovering we owned the woods behind our fenced backyard. My husband is clearing out the brush to create various paths. One thing he isn't clearing out is the wild blackberry brambles. During this entire process we've eagerly watched the blackberries mature and ripen. First we saw the blossoms, then the fruit appeared, and now the mature fruit is ready to be picked.

But one thing I noticed in this maturation process was that the blackberries didn't all mature at the same rate. Some berries are ripening slower than others. Some of the fruit is smaller than others. Worst of all, some fruit never ripens, but dies on the vine before it ever matures into a plump juicy flavorful berry.

We evaluated all the variables and came to some conclusions. The berries in the sun ripen quicker and produce a better fruit. The berries choked by other weeds and plants dry up rather than ripen. And berries in the shade eventually ripen with smaller fruit, as long as there is the right amount of rain.
Often I explain that our Christian lives are journeys and we are all on different parts of the journey, but now I think we are more like berries. We mature, based on circumstances being right. We need the SON to mature into the best fruit, as designed by the Creator. Even in partial darkness (focus on self), with some SON the fruit will grow, but at a much slower rate, and with an inferior finished product. Sadly, other Christians allow the cares of life to choke out their spiritual growth, much like the weeds overcame some of our wild berries by wrapping around the brambles and cutting the berries off from nourishment.

I want to grow into the best fruit. Not for reasons of pride, but because I want my Creator to be well pleased. By allowing the Son to shine fully into my life, and ignoring my shady self desire and the choking cares of the world, I will be able to present my mature fruit to the Harvester with great joy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jungle Jim's Morel Mushrooms

Today I went to Jungle Jim's International Supermarket in Cincinnati. What a field trip for this foodie! It was a chance encounter, but I WILL be returning with a large cooler to make an even bigger dent in my budget. We saw aisles and aisles of foods dedicated to various countries. The seafood section featured aquariums stocked with exotic and not-so-exotic fish. In case you are curious, I purchased: two packages of cookies from Mexico, 1 red bean and rice mix from the state of Louisiana (in a new brand for me), sugar free black cherry beverage syrup for my Italian cream sodas, a special kind of sweet potato casserole in a can with a praline crumble in a shaker container, packaged together. Other items were of the common variety.

Jungle Jim's seems as much like a hands-on museum as it is a supermarket. So much input. I certainly couldn't do my weekly grocery shopping there, but an occasional outing to discover those hard-to-find items will be such a treat.

But one thing I had to comment on was the morel mushrooms. I've been craving them for a few years, because they remind me of spring in my childhood. Our family used to go mushroom hunting every spring (often on "Aunt Hettie's hill") and have morels and eggs, with toast. My last time to have any was in 1988 when a patient brought them in to the doctor's office where I worked. Heaven, I tell you!

Well, I found dried morel mushrooms, a few ounces for $9. Then, I found fresh morels, a pound for $30. Yes, $30! The package I looked at was less than half a pound, but that still seemed like too much of a splurge. So, for now, they can sit on the shelf. Next year, I'll hopefully find some in the woods behind my house. Spring can't come soon enough!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Grateful Gratitudes

I'm grateful...

1. For music that uplifts. Yesterday in church, I had the privilege of singing "You Lift Me Up" with my husband and two of my closest friends. We used a tape track, but Russ played his baritone during some of the interludes, so it had a very "Titanic" music style. Awe-inspiring!

2. For a fun evening making greeting cards using rubber stamps, with my Sunday School class. We are going to use the cards to encourage others and let them know we care. It was a GREAT night of fun! I think I'm going to go buy some supplies to make my own cards while I'm recuperating from surgery. RELAXING.

3. For an editing project completed today. I love helping writers see their own work "kicked up a notch." Sort of like when Emeril shouts "BAM!"

4. For a P.J. day.

5. For Fritos Scoops and bean dip. Just one of my many comfort foods. Amy-remember our Sunday night snack sessions after church?

6. For family-my nephew Taishi has a birthday this week. Ten years old. Such a milestone!

Are YOU grateful this week? Feel free to use the comments feature to list your own.

My Jazzy

Jazzy is almost 8 months old now. She's still growing in to her length and height! In this photo, you can see the subtle brindle highlights where the sun hits her fur. She finds new ways daily to be a blessing to us-usually through the entertainment factor.

Here is Jazzy looking regal:

Now that blogger is more friendly to Macs I'll be able to post more photos. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

All's Well That Ends Well

Sleep well!

MUSIC REVIEW: Everything and More - Story Side B

Story Side B brings something real to the table: songs that are fresh and relatable with a current feel. Each song on Everything and More has the potential to be a single, with inspirational and sometimes melancholy lyrics and contemporary tunes. Their song, “Miracle” was the first hit single to gather airtime on radio, but others from the album are sure to follow.

The play-list starts with "Hold Me Down," a ballad about moving on in life, in the rock alternative tradition. The last song "Everything and More" asks the poignant question "What do you live for? / What do you stand for? / Is it everything you believe and more?"

Newly signed to Gotee Records, Story Side B is led by lead singer and guitarist Lucio "Lu" Rubino, who wrote most of the songs along with drummer Jordan Mohilowski, The group was discovered by the Exalting Him 2003 national talent search, where they finished second. They also won first place the band division. Since then, the band has opened for Jars Of Clay and Out Of Eden. If this CD is any indication, soon Story Side B is sure to be the featured name on the marquee.

Book Review: The Potluck Club-Trouble's Brewing

Trouble’s Brewing, the Potluck Club’s second in a series, is a chick-lit recipe for conflict resolution. The title could have accurately been called “Trouble’s Boiling Over.”

I did not read the first book in this series, so it took a while to get used to the format. Each chapter changed to a new character’s point of view. There was not much back-story to introduce the characters to new readers before launching into the new plot.

After I became acquainted with the characters I learned to enjoy the multiple points of view. Each character brought a new layer to the story and helped me see situations from different perspectives. It was symbolic to me of how easy it is to judge someone and assume the wrong things unless you attempt to see the situation through the eyes of others involved.

Each character was developed in delightfully different ways. Not all were sugary sweet feminine examples of Proverbs 31 virtue. Instead, believable women were placed in unbelievable situations. Humor and mystery were mixed in to the story in such a way I couldn’t help but turn the page.

The members of the Potluck Club learn how to deal with their trials. These burdens come in two varieties: self-inflicted and others-induced. Club members are able to become victorious over trouble spots after risking vulnerability and seasoning their situations with the wisdom of their girlfriends.

The book contains themes such as second chances (future), acts of forgiving a hurt (past), and learning to get along (present time). Some find love where they least expect it while others renew lost loves. The Potluck Club cooks up a recipe to whip gossip and creates surprising outcomes.

All of the recipes mentioned throughout the story are provided in the back of the book, along with a statement from one of the story’s characters. I enjoyed the fruit of the story (life’s lessons) and my entire family will enjoy the fruit of the recipes!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Book Review: Scimitar's Edge

Scimitar’s Edge, by Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World magazine, answers the what-ifs of the future with the history of the past. Set primarily in Turkey, the reader gets a better grasp of the violence associated with Muslim terrorists.

Phoebe du Pont, rich widow of the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, invites three of her loved ones to visit Turkey and see the country through her eyes. Professor Malcolm Edwards, who uses power and position to negotiate sex from needy students, agrees to accompany his aunt. Archrival Armenian journalist Hall Bogikian consents to the trip only because his love for Phoebe keeps him from refusing her. Malcolm and Hal debate every topic, but agree on two things: their adoration for Phoebe and their vehement atheistic mindset. Phoebe invites her assistant, Sally Northaway, to attend to her needs on the trip, but more importantly, to bridge the distance between the two favorite men in her life. Where the men are pragmatic and skeptical, Sally is optimistic and naïve. Just as Phoebe expected, Hal and Malcolm find Sally to be irresistible, and this conflict leads to more tension as the story progresses.

Hal finds that being on Turkish soil stirs up angry emotions. Grandpa Bogikian’s family suffered at the hands of the Turks, and Hal shares this painful history with his traveling companions. Soon they learn firsthand how evil could abound in the minds and hands of the wicked. History repeats itself as terrorists devise ways to torture four innocent tourists. Olasky uses graphic descriptions of the torture, which would garner an R rating in the movie world.

In the midst of adventure and survival, Sally loses her naivety and Hal discovers redemption and hope.

This book is not filled with pages of shallow warm-fuzzies and Christianese. Instead, very realistic characters encounter evil and goodness and must choose between the two.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In Jeopardy

Can you hum the Jeopardy game show theme song? If so, you might want to hum a few bars to set the mood for this thought. Now that you are properly warmed up, I want to make an observation and pose a question.

When the contestants are introduced, Alex Trebek mentions a tidbit about each individual. Sometimes a meaningful moment in life is described, while other times he shares a trivial fact that borders on humor. It's fun to hear what these contestants come up with. What is their idea of a fun fact or important incident?

It would be interesting, when with friends or a Sunday School class, to go around the room and each of us come up with what tidbit we would want Alex Trebek to use in way of our introduction. We might learn some amazing and amusing things about our friends, which might not come up in normal conversation. If we had to sum up the personality of our lives with one statement, what would we choose?

In Heaven, God knows all the facts that fill our days and our hearts. How might He introduce us to the Old Testament and New Testament saints? What statement would characterize our lives? Some of those statements might embarrass us, while others might be a surprise. God saw THAT? I did that good deed in private, but God noticed. I had hoped that sin was personal, but I didn't succeed in hiding it from God! He knows all about us and our lives matter to Him.

Here's the good news: we still have time to change what that life statement might be. And in God's eyes, when we come to Him, our sins are blotted out. When I blot out a stain, there might still be a hint of the stain left on the garment. But when God uses His sin eraser (the blood of Jesus), the stain is gone completely.

I wonder how Alex Trebek would introduce me on the dummies version of Jeopardy? But even more importantly, I wonder how I will be announced as I enter Heaven's doors.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Toe's Up!

You know how they say if your big toe hurts, you might as well hurt all over? Well, I am living proof of that! A little over a week ago, while walking in the woods behind our home, a stick was shoved into my sandal and out the other side. In the process, I injured my big toe. I thought it was just bruised. It hurt, but it wasn't the end of the world. But a few days later, a pretty big bump started growing on the side of my foot, and a pin-dot black spot showed up. Then a bright idea came to me-I must have a splinter from that stick! No biggie, I've had tons of splinters before (I go barefoot as often as I can!). Problem was, the splinter was too deep to get out. I called a podiatrist for an appointment, knowing that with my neuropathy I'm not supposed to fiddle around with injuries to my feet (due to slow wound healing problems).

I picked a podiatrist the closest to my home, allowed by my insurance. I looked up information about her, and found out she is the podiatrist for all of the Cincinnati professional teams, including the Reds. She also won the American Diabetes Association Person of the Year, and other honors. So I was going to a near-famous doctor! That made me seem so silly-to bother her with a splinter!

In the meantime, the tissue around the splinter started getting dark. I was glad I had the appointment to see the doctor, because it looked like the splinter was not going to fester its way to the surface, and it was getting inflamed.

Well, today I went to the doctor. She said I was smart to come in because it was very deeply embedded. She used various surgical tools to remove the skin and tissue above the splinter until she visualized it. Then she used a piece of clear medical tape to pick up the splinter, and actually adhered the tape to a piece of paper with my name and the date to put it in my chart (talk about thorough!). Then she debrided the area around where she removed the splinter, until she got down to healthy tissue. After that she rinsed out the area, put on antibacterial ointment and a large dressing that ended up covering my entire big toe as well as part of my foot. I can't remove the dressing for 3 72 hours, and can't get it wet. She said no showers or baths, but surely I can figure out a way to bag the dressing so I can get cleaned up. If not, I guess I can wash my hair in the sink and do a sponge bath for the rest.

She said wood splinters produce some of the worst foot infections, so I have to go back in 2 weeks to make sure I have no lingering infection or inflammation. She warned me that I needed suitable shoes, and told me this was not something I could have taken care of at home. Then I felt better about bugging her with what I thought was such a minuscule problem.

I should be fine now that the splinter is out.

Anyway, just had to share my crazy day!

Not My Will, But Thine

I don't have any rights. "WHAT?" you might ask. We just celebrated Independence Day because we appreciate the rights given to us as American citizens. I do have American rights, but as a Christian, I have learned to surrender my ownership of any rights in exchange for an opportunity to serve Christ. This is difficult for me to do, to be honest. I'm a debater, and I can win a verbal war with my jaws wired shut! I take great joy in using facts and research to prove a point.

BUT — is that what God wants? Just in the last couple of weeks, God told me in several situations to defer to the rights of the other person. At a writer's seminar, God led me to seek out the needs of others and help them. He led me to assure the fearful hearts of other writers. I assisted beginning writers with basic definitions so they could understand the keynote speaker's terminology. I matched up writers with markets, and with other like-minded writers. Serving others and not putting my own rights first was actually rewarding in and of itself, but there's more.

God blessed me by allowing me to sit by the keynote speaker as a door prize at the seminar. Instead of telling her about my writing career, I asked how she was feeling after speaking so much in one day. She thanked me for recognizing her needs. Evidently, most writers, when they get her undivided attention, just want a piece of her. I have an open door with her in the future because I showed concern.

When I got home, I was challenged to make a painful business decision. I could either fight for my rights, or set my rights aside and yield to the other person, even though she was in the wrong. I ignored the debater in me, and decided instead to follow the example of Jesus and turn the other cheek in this situation. God is already blessing because of this business decision.

Sometimes we must choose to do right by ignoring our rights and seeking God's example and leadership in situations. We end up getting when we give. It's an unfamiliar phenomenon in today's society, but it still holds true.

I'm not using myself as a goody-two-shoes example. I'm not perfect, and I struggle with doing what is right every day. But this is one time, when I listened to that gut feeling that God was directing me, and I was blessed because of it.

We just celebrated our rights as an American, but as a Christian, we yield those rights to better serve our God. His agenda is more important than our own agendas. I'm learning how to yield when I want it to be my way or the highway.

"Not my will, but thine be done."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Special Independence Day Flashbacks

I have several special Independence Day flashbacks to share to get your own remembrance juices flowing. One of the warmest feelings is created from when we let our minds remember back when--

For me, I remember when...

• we had family reunions in Oklahoma with Mom's family near Redbud Park. It included all things indulgent: distant family wanting to "hug my neck," good cookin', Aunt Billi's latest fashionforward statement (hair and self-designed outfit), fun games at the park, good entertainment on various stages, and fireworks at dark. One year I got an autograph from a singer I just knew would be famous one day (she wasn't). We also got invited to cousin Dawn's birthday parties. Aunt Paula always did a neat job planning them!

• we celebrated 1976 in our hometown. I was 13 and had my eyes on all the cute guys, even though I was supposed to be manning a Girl Scout booth. I tended to get crushes on the older guys, and ended up dating one of them just two years later (Kevin Hampton).

• we celebrated with my paternal family in Clarksville. The cousins made up a talent show, and I twirled baton as my talent. I also remember carrying around trash can lids-not sure if they were symbols or shields, or what. The finale was a little fireworks show, and I was safely entrusted with the sparklers.

• I twirled for real one year with a patriotic parade. Talk about being as hot as the 4th of July-it WAS the 4th of July!

• I've grown up and the years fly by with fewer memory makers. But there are still a few neat times to remember. Like the time we took Muffy (our first puppy) to Red Bud Park (Marlow, OK) with us. Or the years we spent with the Snyder family. Amy-remember putting firecrackers in various food items and exploding them in the pond? Hot dogs were a blast, literally! And last year, friends Stephanie and Mark had us over to enjoy time on the berry farm.

Family. Friends. Food. Fun.

The ingredients from which good memories are made.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I Cry Inside (my patriotic thoughts)

I cry when I see the flag at half-mast. I know someone who loved America has died.

I cry when I see tapes of young John Junior, saluting the flag at his father's funeral.

I cry every time the bag pipes play and the 21 gun salute is performed, and especially when the flag is ceremonially folded and presented to the grieving spouse or loved one at the funeral of a veteran.

I cry when I see rebel rousers goofing off during the National Anthem at ball games. They applaud when they hear "and the home of the brave" not because of what the words stand for, but because they know they can order their next beer or get on with the start of the game.

But lately, I cry when I see someone on television burning MY flag. How dare they! They want freedom of speech? Let them go to a country that allows them to burn our flag. They want freedom of speech? They need to think about the Americans who represented the flag to fight for the freedoms this country enjoys. They don't like something about our country? Then they have every right to start a petition, run for a government office, write a letter to the editor, appear before their state or federal government, but leave our flag alone!